Abu Mus’ab al-Suri and the Third Generation of Salafi-Jihadists

Publication: Terrorism Monitor Volume: 3 Issue: 16

Mustafa Setmariam Nasar, aka Abu Mus'ab al-Suri

The decimation of the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood in 1982 had many long-term implications, the most pernicious of which was the emergence of a particularly extreme form of Syrian Salafism. At the center of this is Mustafa Setmariam Nasar, better known as Abu Musab al-Suri (the Syrian), who is widely believed to be the most prolific al-Qaeda ideologue and trainer alive. Currently working closely with the Zarqawi network, and probably based in Iraq, Nasar also allegedly exercises operational control over several al-Qaeda linked networks in the West.

Despite his strenuous denials, Nasar is widely believed to have masterminded the Madrid attacks in March 2004 and probably had an important role in the recent London attacks. Notorious for his online teaching courses, in which he expertly equips the new generation of jihadis and al-Qaeda loyalists with knowledge, insights and useful practical training, Nasar is the most important live link between the old al-Qaeda and the emerging new al-Qaeda. Understanding Mustafa Setmariam Nasar is key to gaining a better insight into the evolving universe of Salafi-jihadism.

Who is Abu Mus’ab al-Suri?

Abu Mus’ab al-Suri is the nom de guerre of Mustafa Abdul-Qadir Mustafa Hussein al-Sheikh Ahmed al-Mazeek al-Jakiri al-Rifa’ei whose family is known as “al-Set Mariam” after their grandmother. [1] He was born in Aleppo in 1958, where he studied mechanical engineering and is also known by the name of Omar Abdul-Hakeem.

Nasar was initiated into al-Tali’a al-Muqatila (Fighting Vanguard), a Jihadist group linked to the Syrian Muslim Brothers, founded by the late Marwan Hadeed. Nasar received training from Egyptian and Iraqi officers and additional training in camps in Jordan and Baghdad during an era when Arab regimes were on a collision course with the Syrian Ba’athists. He was also a member of the higher military command of the Muslim Brotherhood Movement that was established in Baghdad after the Syrian Brothers fled from their country. According to unverified sources Sheikh Saeed Haowa was head of that military command.

Following the events in Hama in 1982, when the Syrian army successfully suppressed the Muslim Brotherhood uprising, Nasar left the movement, after declaring his opposition to the Brotherhood’s alliance with sectarian movements and the former Iraqi regime of Saddam Hussein. He headed for Afghanistan where he met with Abdul-Kader Abdul-Aziz writer of the book entitled The Master of Preparations, which is regarded as a reference point for the jihadis, and also met with Sheikh Abdullah Azzam.

From Afghanistan to Europe

After taking part in the war against the Soviet occupation forces in Afghanistan, Nasar traveled to Spain and subsequently joined the embryonic al-Qaeda organization in 1992. [2] In due course Nasar left Spain for Britain and began associating with Algerian Islamic militants. According to some reports, Nasar attended the initial meetings which led to the creation of the Algerian al-Jama’a al Islamiyah al-Musaliha (Armed Islamic Group). Also in London, Nasar established a center called Conflicts of the Islamic World and it was reported that he had arranged – through that center – two interviews for CNN and the BBC with Osama Bin Laden.

In 1998, he moved back to Afghanistan and pledged allegiance to Mullah Omar. He worked at the Arabic section of Kabul radio. After the ouster of the Taliban regime, Nasar took time to research and write on the Jihadist experiment. According to Nasar, he was not active in any movements during this period and he describes the U.S. State Department’s reward of $5 million leading to his capture as simply “ridiculous”.

In the State Department warrant, Nasar was accused of running the Derunta and al-Ghoraba camps located in Kabul and Jalalabad. The camps allegedly specialized in imparting training and expertise on toxic materials and chemical substances. The State Department voiced concern over Nasar’s association with WMDs, and he was also accused of being a close ally of Abu Mus’ab al-Zarqawi. Moreover, he was associated with the Madrid explosions on March 11, 2004 and was alleged to have had close association with Abu al-Dahdah (Muhi-deen Barakat Yarkas).

Nasar wrote a long reply in response to the State Department’s accusations denying any role in the September 11th attacks, claiming that he had not heard of the attacks until news of them was broadcast by the media. However, he voiced strong support for the attacks. He also claimed that he had not visited Spain since 1995, and that he has no connection to the Madrid explosions whatsoever. Furthermore, Nasar denied any association with Abu Mus’ab al-Zarqawi, with the qualification that he would consider any such association an honor.

Nasar urged the European governments to distance themselves from the aggressive policies of Americans and Israelis as much as possible. He also called upon jihadist fighters to differentiate between an aggressor country and others, and to listen to the more experienced elder Jihadists. Strangely enough, Nasar paid tribute to the innocent victims of the Madrid explosions, but at the same time voiced his sorrow for the absence of WMDs in the 9/11 attacks. Moreover, despite the fact that he expresses reservations about striking mainland European countries, Nasar excludes Britain from such calculations. On the contrary, Nasar places Britain firmly within the American-Israeli alliance.

The Third Generation

An important feature of Nasar’s work revolves around what he terms the “third generation” of Salafi-Jihadists: “I believe that a new generation of Jihadists is born today in the post 9/11 climate, where Iraq is occupied and the Palestinian uprising has reached a climax, thus leaving it at a crossroads. We are at a juncture where the believers have exhausted all their resources, and the nation stands by as a spectator in relation to their sacrifices because of the compelling silence of the ulama, the oppression of its rulers, and the inability to retaliate.” [3]

Through his writing, Nasar is clearly trying to use his position as a “second generation” militant to connect the emerging “third generation” to the accumulated experiences and expertise of the “first generation” as represented by the senior leaders of al-Qaeda, who today are either dead, captured or dispersed around the world. Nasar describes his objective eloquently: “In this book, in my capacity as one of the survivors of the second generation, I have tried to hand down part of this mission to whoever walks in our path. This work is a systematic intellectual summary, and a historic insight that aims to assist those who are prepared to continue the mission, to continue in the path of light without forgetting the great lessons of a noble path that is paved with the blood of thousands of martyrs, and the suffering of a whole generation that strived against tyrants and withstood the most severe repressions.” [4]

This generation is most probably represented by those who carried out the post 9/11 attacks in Bali, Istanbul, Madrid and London. Most importantly are the foreign Arab fighters in Iraq who exemplify the third generation as they mostly lack any military experience whether in Afghanistan or anywhere else. They are the vanguard of the emerging Salafi-Jihadist networks, gaining useful experience in American occupied Iraq, and will in due course be recognized as the “Arab Iraqis” in the same vein as the “Arab Afghans”.

This radicalized third generation will in due course create security problems in their own countries. And as the Syrians allegedly form the second highest group amongst the Arab volunteers, Nasar’s analysis on the situation in Syria, which he published on the Internet in two volumes, may grow increasingly popular. In his book Ahl as-Sunna fil-Sham fi Muwajihat al-Nusairia wal-Salibeen wal-Yahoud, which he wrote following the death of the late Syrian president Hafez al-Asad, Nasar focuses on two fundamental issues: the Nusairi (Alawi) sect and its unjust dominion in Syria and the Syrian state apparatus in its entirety, which according to Nasar, is supported by the West to establish peace with Israel.

From a strategic perspective, Nasar offers interesting insights into the failure of what he calls the “Jihadist experience in Syria”. In short, the failure is attributed to a lack of strategy and planning, unified ideology, jihadist theory and weaknesses in informational and media groundwork. While Nasar does not offer any ready-made solutions to the jihadis in Syria and the wider Islamic movement in that country, it is clear that the inspiration he exercises over Iraq returnees, coupled with wider dynamics, could pose serious problems for the Syrian Ba’ath regime. Meanwhile, Mustafa Setmariam Nasar continues to educate, train and inspire jihadis the world over.


1. His biography has been crafted together from three different sources: Jihad and Tawheed Forum (Abu Mohammed al-Maqdisi’s Website), al-Sharq al-Awsat newspaper 20/11/2004 – Page 9 and his reply entitled “A letter to Bush and his nation” – December 2004, which was published on the Middle East Transparent website.

2. “A letter to Bush and his nation” – December 2004, published on www.metransperant.com.

3. Abu Mus’ab al-Suri, Da’wat al-Moqawma al-Islamiyah” ‘Global Islamic Resistance Call’ – a book that is over 1,500 pages long, thus constituting his largest and most important product. In it he discusses the ‘Afghan Jihad’ and the Islamic movements which it inspired. Nasar also reviews military methods, propaganda, and fund raising. Moreover, the author reviews an important book on Central Asia and presents his perspective on the region as a suitable platform to center global Salafi-Jihadist activities and consequently “liberate” the Middle East, thus imperiling American interests in the region and beyond.

4. Ibid.